A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 2, verses 24 – 26.
Finally, we come to the end of chapter 2. Three thousand years ago, a wise philosopher king in Judea recorded his observations on that state of mankind in relationship to his godlessness. He spent forty-four verses in two chapters of words he spoke to a scribe pinpointing the true hopelessness of all things worldly. Read through these two verses: they sum up the two previous chapters, and they do so in a way that isn’t so oblique. Here, for the first time in the entire book, King Solomon does more than just allude to God as the real source of meaning in life. Before now, God has been the unspoken, silent contrast. Until now, the Lord Almighty (more specifically, the absence of Him in someone’s life) has been unmentioned as the ultimate wise humanist pursued all things worldly and found them to be totally devoid of meaning. Here, for the first time, Solomon says that God is the source and fount of all things, but especially all things good.
Yesterday, in church, my friend Mark (the minister) posed the question “what is church?” Repeatedly, he discussed the Greek word “ecclesia” which means, literally, church. After looking it up (online of course) I found that the word ‘ecclesiastes’ means, of course, the title of this book of the Bible. Another meaning for it I found was ‘preacher.’ These are words from a preacher about the church. Sitting there in church while my friend, who leads a church, I listened to my friend talk about the church while I pondered the meaning of a word that means ‘preacher about the church. The point my friend made (and I encourage you to look up the sermon at http://www.watersedgefrisco.com) was that the church isn’t a building or a place or even a thing. The church is us, we believers, living our lives in the Savior, in God. The church is all of us sinners who are made saints by grace we didn’t deserve and can’t ever earn. The church isn’t a place to go: the church is being. The three thousand year old preacher, preaching about the church, is talking about the characteristics of a group that is instead of about a group the way it should be. All those words about life being meaningless, hopeless nothing without God? They were preaching about the church, you and me, the being.
Is that surprising? After all, He who instituted it goes by the simple but miraculously mysterious name of “I AM.” And is it surprising, then, that this book, which is entitled ‘preacher about the church’ talks about how all things, all ways, all goals in which we (of the church) live are hopeless, worthless and meaningless unless they are 100% centered in the God who surpasses all understanding.
How funky is that?
In the service, Mark reiterated a point he has made before: if you think a Christian church is a group of holy people whose actions are all wiped out, then you’ve got it all wrong. If you come to church thinking you can get a clean slate and go on to live out life totally anew, absolved of all wrongdoing you’ve ever done, then you misunderstand. This is a hard, damn world and we live hard, damn lives, and so many folks look at church and are befuddled, even offended, at the idea that people can get together and live in ways the defy that hard damn world. They think churches are full of good people, maybe people too good for them. And they’ve got it wrong.
And they’ve got it right too.
What do you call a group of lying, cheating, cursing, philandering, scheming, deceitful, unholy, struggling, failing awful people? Congress? A Hollywood movie shoot? Maybe. More to the point, you call them ‘the church.’ The church struggles but the church is 100% forgiven of all its wrongs. The church lives in the damned old world but it isn’t of that world. When we’re good, it’s because we’ve been re-made that way. And you’re part of the ‘we.’ To the great I AM, you are special, unique, and amazingly loved.
We are the church when we are centered in Christ, living our lives as He empowers. When you’re part of the church, you do indeed get the opportunity to turn your back on the old ways, on the ways that correctly labeled you as a lying, cheating, cursing (and the rest) kind of person. You’re a sinner, but you’re made a saint. There’s nothing about what you have done before that means you have to be that kind of person again. True freedom to change, real hope and change you can believe in, starts with God and only God. Anything else is just a shabby imitation.
Worse, it’s a shabby imitation that is hopeless, worthless, and meaningless. To all of us God gives blessings. To those who reject Him, he blesses them with the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. If working, struggling, partying, living it up, saving, investing, planting, earning and whatever you do to use your talents in this world is as good as it gets, then your life is meaningless. Store up your millions, even billions, and buy a new Rolls every month. Wear the finest clothes, lay a grand on the bar every night, get all the best stuff, and do whatever your wealth can buy you and when you’re done, go look in the mirror. You’re still no better than me and I’m not better than the worst this world has to offer. All your ‘stuff’ is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
What’s more, to those sinners who reject him – and I believe that’s each of us at points in our lives – God continually gives those blessings as outreach, as invitations to come back home, as love letters from him, to us, and about the church.
He gives us ecclesia and ecclesiastes, a preacher about the church. He gives that to us because we are the church.
If you’re part of the church, you’re part of a living, thriving, growing being. God Immanuel, the great Jehovah, Yahweh, the Triune One and, as they said in ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ “The Chairman,” lives in you and through you. He sees through your eyes. He reads these words, feels from your fingertips, and speaks to your heart in His own Spirit. You aren’t some host onto which a parasite is grafted. You’re a living, sentient, vital, independent but struggling, failing being whose eyes, blood and sinew are in-dwelt by the sprit of Life itself. You’re one of billions, yet to God you are extra special, most unique. The church is you and you are part of the church. Today, ‘preach’ about that to a world that really needs to hear it.